Luke makes us even more uncomfortable with his version of the Beatitudes by adding a list of woes which describes us perfectly…Woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full now…Woe to you who are laughing now.
February 13, 2022
On a Level Place
Pastor Heather McColl
He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
On a Level Place Luke 6:17-26
It is amazing to me how God always gives us the word we need to hear in a particular time and in a particular place. Notice I did not say Want to hear. I said that God gives us the word we need to hear.
Let me explain: I chose this text a while ago, not knowing what would be happening in our country and in our state right now: people feeling frustration and anger, tensions rising, emotions boiling over and dividing us even more.
I realized as I began to work on this sermon that I was supposed to talk about the Beatitudes in the midst of all this turmoil. My first thought was, “Awww man, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
Well, that was Wednesday. By Friday, I had taken to pleading with God, asking, begging for a different Scripture to share but the Spirit of God said, No. This is the Word that I want you to bring for the people of God for a time such as this.
So I went back and spent a little bit more time with Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Luke’s version of this text is not the one we are most familiar with when it comes to the Beatitudes. That’s Matthew’s version. Matthew is the one who says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the peacemakers.”
We tend to like Matthew’s version better than Luke’s because well, because Matthew frames the conversation in spiritual terms. He shapes the blessings into a spiritual framework and within that spiritual framework, we can and do find our place as people of faith.
Because at some point or another, we have all been poor in spirit. Because at some point or another, we have mourned. We all like to think of ourselves as ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, as ones who see themselves as peacemakers. In reading Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes, we tend to find our place and kind of like the idea that we are called to rejoice and be glad, knowing that the Kingdom of God is ours.
But Luke’s version, well, Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, we would rather pretend didn’t exist. Because, as much as we don’t like to admit it, we struggle to find our place anywhere in those blessings.
Sure we talk about being poor. We talk about being hungry. We talk about being filled with sorrow. But deep down, we know Luke’s version of these blessings is not for us. They are for the truly poor. They are for the truly hungry. They are for the ones who truly weep because they have nothing. They are for the ones who have been forgotten. They are for the ones who have been pushed to the margins and are ignored. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is for the ones we as a society would rather pretend didn’t exist.
No Luke’s version of these blessings are not for us who although we may have some tight spots until month’s end, we still have money in the bank. We can still look at our pantries full of food, and complain that there is nothing to eat. We know that no matter what, we have a safety net of resources to catch us if we fall.
No, Luke’s version of these blessings is not for us. But you know what is…his list of woes. You know the list of woes which follows his blessings, that list of woes which Matthew avoids putting into his version. Luke makes us even more uncomfortable with his version of the Beatitudes by adding a list of woes which describes us perfectly…Woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full now…Woe to you who are laughing now.
These describe us. These woes describe the majority of our community. These woes describe the majority of our nation. In reading Luke’s version of the beatitudes, as hard as it is to admit, we know, we know that we will not find our place among the blessings Luke describes but rather we can definitely and easily find our place among the list of woes, a list of woes which only Luke is brave enough to add.
I have to tell you…this is when I had another conversation with God, asking, pleading again for another Scripture, another word to bring today and again, the response I heard was…this is my Word for my people for a time such as this.
So if we can’t ignore Luke’s list of blessings and woes, what are we as people of faith supposed to do with it?
To answer that question, we need to remember the context when looking at this text. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes falls within Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Now this is significant because when Matthew tells his version of the Beatitudes, they fall during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching and preaching high above the people, talking down to the people, handing the word down from on high, symbolizing Moses bringing the 10 commandments down off the mountain for the people.
But in Luke, Jesus is looking up at his disciples. Jesus is on the same level as the people. Not separated. Not divided. Not set apart from but rather, Jesus was in and among the people.
This is important because this is Luke’s way of telling us, reminding us that Jesus came to level the playing field for all of God’s children. Not pick favorites. Not break bread only with the powerful and mighty. Jesus came to level the playing field for all of God’s children but especially for the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized.
You see, from the very beginning, Luke has been telling us this. We have just refused to listen. In the very first chapter of his Gospel, Luke has a young woman lift her voice in song, telling us that the rich will be made poor, the poor will be made rich, the weak will be strong and the strong made weak. In the very next chapter, Luke tells us that the birth announcement of the Son of God didn’t come to a King. It is made to some poor shepherds on the hillside, some of the dirtiest, lowest, and most marginalized people at that time.
Then since we don’t seem to be catching on, Luke tells us that in Jesus’ first sermon at the Temple, he reads a portion from Isaiah which says “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus tells us time and time again that he didn’t come to make us comfortable and happy. He came to set people free from the darkness which binds them. So if we are paying attention to Luke’s version of the Gospel at all, we would know that from the very beginning, he has been telling us that the Kingdom of God is like nothing we have ever experienced before. It defies our expectations. It flips our world upside down. It comes to us in surprising and amazing new ways. From the beginning of his Gospel, Luke has been telling us that the purpose and vision of the Kingdom of God is to throw everything off balance.
Which is why when Jesus puts forth the Beatitudes, statements which reframe the Kingdom conversation once again, he reframes them not in the easy to embrace spiritual realm. Rather Jesus reframes the conversation of the Kingdom of God in the difficult, messy realm of the socio-economic realities which many people faced and continue to still face today. By reframing the conversation this way, Jesus is telling us that the Gospel Message for us as disciples of Christ has been and continues to be a call for us to level the playing field for all of God’s children. We are called to continue Jesus’ work for justice, not only for a select few but for all of God’s children. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be a presence of love and grace, not only for the people who think like us or act like us but for all of God’s children.
This is the word of God for the people of God for a time such as this because now more than ever, we are called to see things differently, to see them not as how the world sees things but to see things, to see people through the eyes of God’s compassion and love. Because now more than ever, we are called to open our hearts and minds to the surprising and transformative ways the Kingdom of God is at work in our midst. Because now more than ever, we are being called to level the playing field for all of God’s children. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, February 13, 2022 – On a Level Place Luke 6:17-26.